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Youth Climate Strike estimated 4 million participants worldwide

25th Oct 2019
Youth Climate Strike estimated 4 million participants worldwide

Environmentalists demonstrate in Paris on September 20 (Photo: Mustafa Yalçin/Anadolu Agency)

On September 20, millions of young climate activists, inspired by Greta Thunberg, took to the streets in their cities to demand government action on climate change. It has been the widest-reaching youth-led demonstration to date.

Berlin, New York, Melbourne, and London each boasted over 100,000 participants; and a group of scientists even rallied in Antarctica, showing that the movement reached every continent.

The momentum for the movement is currently strong, but only sustained pressure on governments and private businesses will ensure results. Some of the youth leaders have specific demands relating to the problems in their region.

For example, Ruby Sampson and Ayakha Melithafa of Cape Town are members of the African Climate Alliance, and they are calling for an immediate moratorium on coal, oil and gas extraction in South Africa.

Other activists are demanding a halt to deforestation, divestment of fossil fuels, and government investment into climate funds. The young people leading these strikes must make concrete demands that are relevant to their regions.

Right now, government leaders listen to the activists, but many feel that they have already done enough by signing the Paris Climate Agreement, and should even be applauded for sticking to their commitments in the face of the US, a major greenhouse gas emitter, having withdrawn from the historic accord.

The money to make systematic changes to climate policy exists within governments, but it’s up to this climate movement to expose where those funds are currently going and to suggest better avenues for it. A Rolling Stone report published in May stated that “The IMF found that direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas in the US reached $649 billion in 2015.

Pentagon spending that same year was $599 billion.” China ranked first in the world for fossil fuel subsidies, while the US came in at second. It’s no coincidence that these nations also account for the top two greenhouse gas emitters.

A few days after the climate strike Greta Thunberg gave an impassioned speech to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, urging action by stating, “People are dying; entire ecosystems are collapsing.

We are at the beginning of mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?” Thunberg attacked the idea of technical solutions to fix the climate problem, and that current predictions do not take into account additional warming by air pollution or climate justice.

At the beginning of the speech, she admitted her position of privilege, implying that the world’s poorest do not have the opportunities she has to remain protected for a longer period amid the gravest consequences of climate change. People are dying early of air pollution; crops are failing due to droughts and floods leading subsistence farmers to starvation and suicide.

Thunberg has been heavily criticised by right-leaning media outlets; some call her a pawn being used by progressives, others have lumped her in with Nazis, and one even mocked her for having autism. Some who support the youth climate movement are upset that a white climate activist has received so much praise while young activists of colour who have been active for far longer than Thunberg have received little acknowledgement for their sustained efforts.

On Instagram, one user Sara K Ahmed posted, “If you’re teaching about Greta, teach about Autumn as well. Activist since she was eight. Beautiful Storyteller.

Nominated for the 2019 International Children’s Peace Prize. Chief Water Commissioner for Anishinabek First Nation & Wikwemikong First Nation.” In the current era where people are constantly exposing inequity and injustice, it remains true that a Swedish activist’s message will reach a wider audience than that of an indigenous tribe member.

There are many moving parts to this youth-led movement. Politicians feel the pressure, and young people feel the fear for their future as well as the empowerment that they’re not alone in the fight.

Yet, there have been many strong movements that captivated the world’s attention that ended up fizzling out without clear direction, i.e. Occupy Wall Street. If this movement intends on gaining traction, clear demands must be made to officials.

Experts must be brought in to conduct cost-benefit analyses. If young people want politicians to listen to them, they must speak their language and take action to affect their money (campaign donations) as well as their public image. By targeting specific industries and exposing politicians’ climate records, they can make sure that their demands do not fall on deaf ears.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall,
English Language Teacher & Environmental Columnist

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